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September 20, 2014

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Stoops defends Arizona’s ability to handle bowl game distractions

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Jae C. Hong / AP Photo

Arizona football coach Mike Stoops (left) and BYU football coach Bronco Mendenhall pose for photos between Las Vegas show girls during a news conference at ESPN Zone inside the New York New York casino on Dec. 9. BYU will face Arizona in the Las Vegas Bowl on Saturday.

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Arizona football coach Mike Stoops, talks to reporters after a Las Vegas Bowl news conference at ESPN Zone on Dec. 9.

University of Arizona football coach Mike Stoops is well aware that his team will face two tough opponents in Saturday's Pioneer Las Vegas Bowl – the No. 16 BYU Cougars and Sin City itself.

Stoops spent most of his weekly Monday morning press conference discussing how his team will handle the spotlight of its first bowl game in 10 years and the added temptations of an extended road trip in Las Vegas.

"We are there to play a football game and there are a lot of temptations to go out and be preoccupied with all the other aspects of Las Vegas, but we've talked a lot about it with this group," Stoops said. "It's been a very unique group to coach and we've been very mature in the way we've handled things all year. Hopefully that won't change. If it does then we won't play very well. It's pretty simple."

Stoops is no stranger to the distractions a bowl game offers. He played in four bowl contests at Iowa and coached in 14 others at Oklahoma, Kansas State and Iowa.

None of his players have experienced the hoopla of a bowl game, though. In addition, the Wildcats played just five road games this season, posting a 2-3 record when away from Tucson.

"You have to focus on what will make the trip memorable and that's how you play," Stoops said. "We have a national television audience against a great opponent, what could be better motivation?"

Unfortunately for Stoops, the off-field distractions started before his team's trip to Las Vegas when Tuscon police arrested linebacker Sterling Lewis Thursday morning on an extreme DUI charge after he was seen driving on the wrong side of a road in east Tucson.

Lewis, who notched 59 tackles this season, blew above a .15 in a breath test, which is nearly double Arizona's .08 blood alcohol content legal limit.

Stoops suspended Lewis indefinitely and barred the Blinn College transfer from traveling to the Las Vegas Bowl.

"There are team rules that we abide by all year," Stoops said. "If you cross those lines there will be ramifications. You always hope that won't be the case, but sometimes you learn from other people's mistakes as I think the team is doing right now."

The Wildcats are slated to arrive in Las Vegas on Tuesday night and will stay at the Venetian. In addition to daily practices at UNLV's Rebel Park, Arizona will also partake in many other festivities including an eating contest at the Fremont Street Experience on Thursday night and a visit to Sunrise Children's Hospital Thursday morning.

Yet even with all of those non-football events planned, Stoops discussed another distraction his staff is game planning for – the cold weather. The National Weather Service forecasts game time temperatures on Saturday to be in the mid-30s.

The last time the Wildcats played in such cold weather was when they traveled to Oregon on Nov. 15. Arizona lost 55-45, but outscored the Ducks 28-10 in the second half.

"We played in Oregon and it got down to the 40s, so I imagine it will be a very similar night on Saturday," Stoops said. "In the second half you could see yourself breathing and we handled it well. We certainly got better as it got colder."

Ultimately though, Stoops is trying to convince his squad that Saturday's contest will be just like any other game.

"I think they are getting anxious," Stoops said. Practice seemed to pick up over the weekend… We are in pretty good shape going into this game. We are healthy and I think we are excited for the opportunity to not just play in a bowl, but win it."

Steve Silver can be reached at 948-7822 or [email protected].

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